South Africa’s cricketing cupboard is bare

2008-09-02 00:00

“The cupboard is bare” — that was the comment made by one of South Africa’s leading cricket journalists on the present state of South African cricket.

Sitting at 4-0 down in the one-day series played against England, with a match still to play, it is uncomfortably and patently evident that all is not well in the Protea closet.

Just a month ago, the South African players were talking about winning the series 5-0 and going to the top of the world ODI rankings. Should the Proteas succumb to a 5-0 defeat against England, they will slide down to number six.

I mentioned last week that our middle-order batsmen have been battling and it is painful to watch them capitulating under pressure. They have been struggling to rotate the strike with singles and have resorted to looking for the irresponsible boundaries to relieve the pressure. Unfortunately for them, and South African supporters, Kevin Pietersen has been one step ahead and has exploited this weakness expertly.

There have been statements made by the South Afican cricketers that it has been a long tour, that “the boys are tired” and, of course, that we are in “a building phase” for the future.

In my opinion, the truth is that the real guts of the team have been exposed. The senior players’ cupboard is just about empty and without Graeme Smith, who has injured his elbow, leading from the front, there is no one for the likes of JP Duminy and AB de Villiers to feed off.

The bowlers have showed passion and commitment, but they, too, are young and are desperate for direction and leadership. What a gaping hole Shaun Pollock has left in this wobbling side.

It’s easy to pick holes in teams who are performing badly, but there are concerning issues.

Former Proteas coach and South African all-rounder Eric Simons has mentioned that the team’s fitness levels and batting techniques need to be examined and analysed.

The South African team appears unfit and their batting skills have certainly been found wanting.

I have been reading The Art and Science of Cricket by the late Bob Woolmer — it’s fascinating reading. Woolmer was probably the most innovative coach in the world and his coaching in one-day cricket was second to none. Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher have all benefited from Woolmer’s coaching over the years, and they are the senior players who should be helping Smith lead his team and to encourage and protect the less experienced players.

Hashim Amla is currently opening the batting for South Africa in one-day internationals, but averages just 25 in domestic one-day cricket.

There is no doubt that Amla has earned his place in the Test team and he has become an imporant member of the top order. But without the weight of runs behind him in the one day game to make him an obvious selection, does it not suggest that there is no other option for the selectors?

Vernon Philander is another talented youngster, but he is not yet ready for one-day international cricket and you can see it in his eyes. I don’t think the selectors have done him any favours by selecting him so early. Philander would benefit enormously from a few more seasons playing at franchise and South African A level.

It is a major concern to think that South Africa currently has so little depth in one-day cricket. It does, however, present a great opportunity for players in the franchises to push for selection during the coming season and, one hopes, restock our bare cupboard with exciting potential for the future.

Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP, Hampshires and Zimbabwe cricketer living in Pietermaritzburg.

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